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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » So... is it possible to make a tasteful video game starring a pregnant woman?

   
Author Topic: So... is it possible to make a tasteful video game starring a pregnant woman?
Raymond Arnold
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This idea just came to me randomly and I'm really not sure what to think of it or which direction to take it in. To my knowledge (correct me if I'm wrong) there's never been a computer game starring a pregnant woman. It seems to me the notion has the potential to make a seriously interesting game, and also has the potential to be completely tasteless and/or unprofitable to the point of not being worth the effort.

The angle I'm leaning towards right now is a sort of post-apocalyptic story with a goal of figure out what caused the apocalypse and to get humanity back on its feet. At the beginning the main character has only just discovered she's pregnant and is general free to move around without a problem. She and her husband are on their own, trying to find answers, deal with threats and locate other survivors.

As the game progresses so does the pregnancy, making it more difficult for the main character to move. The game shifts away from action sequences and focuses on exploration, mystery/puzzle solving and stealth. Navigating through dangerous areas requires you to effectively use the different skill sets of the characters (both the mother and father and others that you later meet), such as having a good climbing go up and then lower a rope, or someone's whose strong moving boulders, someone whose good at holding their breath swimming into a sunken building to retrieve an item.

The baby is born just before the final act. A cinematic montage gives the woman enough time to recover so she can go up against the final encounter with most of her original physical capabilities, and if the game is executed right the player would have a truly strong emotional incentive to save the world, protecting the child and the future of humanity it symbolizes.

Some people I've talked to have expressed concern that the wouldn't be able to deal with constant threats to the baby (i.e. it's okay to let Lara Croft fall to her death a few times as you try to navigate a hazardous series of jumps, it's a lot squickier when there's a baby dying every time). I'm also wondering what demographics would actually want to play the game in the first place.

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Herblay
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A point and click adventure (where you can't die) would be the most tasteful. You don't want little animations to play of losing the baby or anything.

Something like Frogger, where the pregnant woman tries to cross the road without being runover, would probably be the most tasteless.

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Raymond Arnold
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A main question I haven't gotten any solid answers yet on: would the "squick" factor of losing the baby still be present in the first act when she's not "obviously" pregnant and the animation isn't much different than it might be for Lara Croft? Would it matter if she (and sort of you, although you'd probably have heard from advertisements) didn't even know she was pregnant until the second act?
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Herblay
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Maybe if the baby wasn't a normal baby. Maybe if it was a demon or demigod or something. Or a robot.

It's like if I wrote a video game where errors would kill my spouse instead of myself. People will sacrifice themselves for a worthy cause. They won't generally sacrifice someone else --- especially a baby.

The baby would have to be invincible. Otherwise, you're pretty much relegated to a physical harm free puzzler. Something along the lines of a Gabriel Knight game or a purist "adventure game".

OR, you could make it satirical / over the top. Add another layer to the whole "Grand Theft Auto" motif. As long as it's being pitched as tasteless, it can be. I say, go for a Frogger clone, call it Pregger.

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Herblay
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Oooh, a magic item could protect the baby. Magic always works as a convenient deux ex.
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
I say, go for a Frogger clone, call it Pregger.
Against my better judgement, [ROFL]

That said, honestly, one of the main reasons I'm intrigued by this is to see if you could get players to identify with "real" pregnancy. Fearing for the child, trying to create a better life for it. Making it a demigod or otherwise invulnerable defeats that purpose. And, it seems to me, having at least a few moments where you and the baby are in genuine danger seems like a very potent tool, even if it's something that needs to be handled delicately and sparingly.

My thinking is that, since most male players would have difficulty (and not a whole lot of desire to) immediately identify with pregnancy itself, make the first act of the game about something they WOULD be able to identify with. Isolationist exploration games with an intriguing mystery tend to be good for that, since you're discovering the world along with your avatar and it's almost guaranteed you'll be experiencing the same emotions of wonder and suspense.

When you first realize your character is pregnant, there'll probably be a bit of a disconnect if you're a male player. Reconnecting with her would take some serious chops on the part of the dialogue-writer, but I think it can be done.

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MattP
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What if you made it non-human? That might be enough to soften concerns about hurting a human baby when putting the mother at risk. I think you could still encourage an empathetic relationship with the unborn child.
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MightyCow
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I hope this is just a thought experiment, because it's a horrible idea for an actual video game.
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TomDavidson
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I would actually be surprised if the majority of players really cared one way or another, to be honest.
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
What if you made it non-human? That might be enough to soften concerns about hurting a human baby when putting the mother at risk. I think you could still encourage an empathetic relationship with the unborn child.
Do you mean making all involved characters non-human or having the baby be a random alien symbiote or something?

quote:
I hope this is just a thought experiment, because it's a horrible idea for an actual video game.
Horrible in the sense that it'd be boring or horrible in the sense that it'd be offensive (I'm worried about it turning out either, but I am curious if it's possible to be neither)

I've recently been playing several games that were really good at affecting my emotions and getting me to empathize with characters I wouldn't have expected to, so I'm on a "what's the extent that a video game can involve us with a character" kick.

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TomDavidson
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I don't think it'd be necessarily offensive to the target audience. But you can guarantee that there will be people offended by it who have never played video games.
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Raymond Arnold
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Do you think that's something inherent in the specific story I outlined or in the entire notion of roleplaying a pregnant woman period, no matter how it's handled?

Edit: Or more usefully, "no matter how it's handled, if it were handled in a way that would actually be interesting to male players." I'm sure there's plenty of types of games you could make that would be more appealing to female players but part of the point is to be interesting to people who ordinarily don't go through pregnancy.

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Herblay
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Two thoughts:

- If the danger wasn't death, it was capture / imprisonment, etc. That would soften the blow. Like some of the stragegic combat games, game over if you're caught.

- If you really want to start off with action, use a heavy plot and have the character become pregnant later in the game. You'll have to do a little more story spinning, but it could work. Plus, they're care more if they had the story involvement and were "present" at conception, rather than backfilling story into a prologue.

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theamazeeaz
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The Sims 2 (haven't played in a while) dealt with pregnancy. I remember my mother looking over my shoulder at a very pregnant character and laughing at the fact that the Sim waddled.
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solo
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quote:
Originally posted by MightyCow:
I hope this is just a thought experiment, because it's a horrible idea for an actual video game.

I disagree with this comment pretty strongly. I think this could be a great game.

I like the idea of not knowing she is pregnant for the action oriented start of the game but only if it works better for the story. As a story driven game, I think this could work really well.

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MightyCow
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Horrible in the sense that video games are about having fun and escaping. What fun is it to roleplay being pregnant? Your back hurts, you have to pee all the time, you can't walk very fast, it's hard to pick up large things (so my wife tells me)...

Might as well do a herniated disk simulator [Razz]

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aeolusdallas
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The sims?
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TomDavidson
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quote:
Horrible in the sense that video games are about having fun and escaping.
Hrm. I would argue that this is certainly not true of all video games. It's this belief, in fact, that keeps Ebert from thinking video games can be art.
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Raymond Arnold
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The thing with the Sims is that there's a difference between having a game that lets you do whatever you want, which happens to include being pregnant, and a game that specifically focuses on a pregnant woman. Same thing goes for portrayals of races and genders and what-not. It's definitely a good thing that we have a lot of games that let you choose your sex and skin color, but on most games the characters on the front cover are still white men.

quote:

Horrible in the sense that video games are about having fun and escaping. What fun is it to roleplay being pregnant? Your back hurts, you have to pee all the time, you can't walk very fast, it's hard to pick up large things (so my wife tells me)...

Might as well do a herniated disk simulaton

Not to be confused with a game where you're repeatedly beaten to death by goblins or space aliens? [Razz]

I think there's plenty of room to have a game that lets you 'escape' in all the same ways that games normally do, while still addressing issues that games normally don't.

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Sterling
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This is really, really interesting... And I don't think I'd want to be looking for funding of it, because I don't think most producers would touch it with a ten-foot pole.

If the child can't be harmed, it becomes very difficult to create a credible sense of dramatic risk. If the child can be harmed- especially in utero- you set off a lot of people's buttons.

And if the only way for the child to die is the mother to die, the heroine is kind of like every other video game character except that they become increasingly (and probably frustratingly, from the POV of most players) debilitated.

I'd be tempted, just off the top of my head, to go with a fantastic premise and have the mother gain symbiotic mental powers as the child grows in her womb to offset the physical limitations. I don't think it's been done well yet, but there have been games that enabled players to "look through the eyes" of nearby enemies; such a thing could be both a useful tool and an effective way of heightening tension for a character who has to rely on evasion. Then maybe later in the game, near delivery, move on to psychic possession, using individual enemies to the best of your ability to protect the borderline-immobile heroine.

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Starsnuffer
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Regarding thoughts on hurting children in video games Fallout 3 doesn't allow you to kill kids (much to my chagrin when I first tried to beat the crap out of a kid who was back-talking me). Apparently european rating groups wouldn't give it anything less than an NC-17 rating unless kids were safe.

So I think your concern about people's impressions of danger regarding the baby are reasonable.

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Raymond Arnold
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Earlier on I had considered making the baby psychic and granting the mother powers later on. I had been moving away from the supernatural baby concepts by the time I brought the idea to this forum because I wanted the game to showcase a "normal" pregnancy, but the idea does still tickle me.

Another idea is to have the game set in a world where supernatural powers were commonplace (so the woman could just be a mage to begin with). Alternately, magic might be rare, but part of the "puzzle solving" elements in the game involve learning a rune language that gives you new spells as the game progresses.

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TomDavidson
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To be honest, I think it's an interesting concept, and would be considerably more interesting if you kept any supernatural elements of out it. I don't think a viable threat to a child or an increasingly feeble protagonist are necessarily verboten, either. But the rest of the game would need to be very solid.
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Xann.
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Have you seen the game Heavy Rain? It seems like a game with a similar setting would work for a pregnent women. One of the main points of the game is that if your character dies your control is passed to another character. To start as a pregnent women in this game, even if she was far into it would work really well in my opinion. I also think that making a game where a pregnent women can die could, if done right, could be seen as not insensitive.

[ June 11, 2009, 09:53 AM: Message edited by: Xann. ]

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Raymond Arnold
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Huh. I'm not sure whether or not that would address the issue of pregnancy woman death squeamishness, but that looks like it'll be an amazing game if they pull if off right, and whether it fixes the controversial-ness or not the "switch characters if one of them dies" mechanic could be appropriate regardless.

By the way, on another forum, there was a female gamer that said while she probably wouldn't want to play the game period, the one thing that would genuinely offend her no matter what was including a "miscarriage mechanic," (i.e. if your character suffers a lot of damage at once, the baby is lost but the game continues). While I don't think including such a mechanic is inherently necessary, I'm curious how common/universal that opinion is.

Also on that note, I'm not sure from screen names whether any women have commented in this thread, and I think this is the sort of thing where it matters which demographics have which opinions.

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Xann.
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I didn't mean to say that switching the character after death would take away any of the squeamishness, I meant that I would play a game with the chance of the death of a pregnent women if it was done right.

I was also thinking that in a game like I Am Alive you could have a pregnent women pretty easily.

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scifibum
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I'm not sure pregnancy does it for me, but I'm intrigued by the idea of a game where the player character gets increasingly debilitated as the game goes on.

It's very common for games to increase the difficulty as the game progresses, though I don't know if this is true of all genres, and the player gains additional skills that compensate. The skills can be real*, such as motor reflexes that adapt to the game mechanics, or puzzle solving ability. Or they can be in-game conceits like more powerful weapons or simply taking less damage from attacks.

But I'm not sure if I've ever encountered a game where I start out powerful and fast and get worse steadily. I thought maybe racing games would qualify, since taking damage to a vehicle can slow you down and worsen handling...but I'm not going to count those since it's always temporary. Just until your race is over and then you repair and upgrade and you're back to normal for the next race. Same with games that simulate physical damage to the character with making them slow until they can find a medpack or spend a short time recovering.

So a game where most of the expanse of the play involves a steady loss of ability would be different, I think. If it wasn't pregnancy it could be a story about a demigod losing his powers and having to adapt to solve problems in a different way.

Of course it's entirely possible that this has been done already. My game experience is not very broad. I would like to see it done in a game I'd want to play. ;-)

*Not necessarily practically useful, though.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Of course it's entirely possible that this has been done already. My game experience is not very broad.
Yeah, that's something I'm struggling with right now. I don't play video games because they take up too much time, yet I want to be a game designer eventually, so I really should. Over the past few days I've been trying out demos of several different indie (and not-so-indie) games trying to expand my horizons.

Speaking of which...

...actually, the direction I was about to go in I think warrants it's own thread. See you on the other side.

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Seatarsprayan
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quote:
Some people I've talked to have expressed concern that the wouldn't be able to deal with constant threats to the baby (i.e. it's okay to let Lara Croft fall to her death a few times as you try to navigate a hazardous series of jumps, it's a lot squickier when there's a baby dying every time).
Just put a disclaimer in the instructions that it's only a fetus and no one should care if it dies. It's not a person, just a blob of tissue.

In fact, you could make it so the character has to have an abortion to advance the game at some point... be interesting to see people's reactions while playing.

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Jenny Gardener
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Pregnancy is not just "debilitating". Some women become energized. With my first, I became aggressive and able to fight for her (good because the insurance company was giving us grief). Some women get a charisma boost (the mythic "glow"). I, for one, would LOVE to see a game this far outside the box, especially if it was done with empathy and sensitivity. But why have it a game where the character is in physical danger all the time? What if the character was more in danger of being captured and her baby taken to be raised by her enemies? And for her to be enslaved? What about the psychological stresses of finding a safe place to give birth? And to find community? Or to learn just how much you can do on your own. Pregnant women are NOT helpless, nor do they have to become so. When I was in the latter stages of labor, I refused to be seated in a wheelchair and marched upstairs to the birthing center, fiercely claiming my right to do so. It's a heck of a lot easier to give birth in a supportive environment, but it is certainly possible to do so in a less desirable situation. A game with pregnancy could have bouts of morning sickness, yes, but it should also have moments of sheer breathtaking wonder. I could see more of a cooperative style of gameplay, too. Why do games have to be shooters to be successful? What about games designed to stimulate other sources of pleasure? Or what about a MYST style game, with learning more about one's own body and the baby as part of the mystery? How is this baby's genetic heritage going to play out? Perhaps the mother or the father or both don't know their ancestry, and this has an important role to play in the child's future?
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scifibum
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For my part, after I wrote my post I realized I might appear to be drawing an equivalency between pregnancy and general loss of ability, but decided not to attempt to clarify. Oops.
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Sterling
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quote:
Originally posted by Jenny Gardener:
But why have it a game where the character is in physical danger all the time? What if the character was more in danger of being captured and her baby taken to be raised by her enemies? And for her to be enslaved?

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents: The Game. [Smile]
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Xann.
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Jenny, the game I mentioned earlier, I Am Alive seems to echo what you said. The game is after a huge earthquake passes though Chicago, then trying to survive after. Implenting a pregnent woman into the game would be almost exactly what you said about finding safety and community.
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Raymond Arnold
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Yeah, I am Alive is a good comparison.

The plot I've been leaning more and more towards over the past day, based on various comments:

Part 0: The woman's name is fixed but you choose her race and physical appearance. I think this is important because letting you customize her helps you immediately form a connection and identify with her.

Part I: A catastrophe has just occurred, causing widespread death and destruction. The woman begins on her own, having barely survived, surrounded by rubble and dead bodies. The initial objective is to find your husband. Shortly after the objective becomes to navigate the ruins, searching for other survivors, food and water, and figuring out what went wrong. You meet one or two survivors who are friendly, one or two others that try to steal your food (opening up for either combat or some kind of negotiation), and a few other genuinely hazardous situations depending on the nature of the catastrophe and the agents that caused it. (You can swap back and forth between characters at this point)

Part II: You realize you are pregnant. You now have two major goals. One is to find a safe haven, the other is finding a solution to the consequences of the catastrophe (by this point clues about what happened are piling up and pointing to something sinister/interesting). There isn't any combat but reaching the safe haven is taking you through increasingly difficult terrain. The gameplay focuses on finding new survivors with assorted skills and using those skills in tandem to pass through "puzzle" type terrain obstacles.

Part III: You reach the safe haven, which is situated near several clues regarding the catastrophe. Gameplay focuses on establishing your new home and solving the mystery. By this point the woman is nearing the end of her pregnancy, and the player may be relying more on the other characters, but ideally the woman would have some kind of skill that the others don't have that is necessary to solve some of the puzzles, forcing you to deal with the pregnancy issues.

Just as she's nearing childbirth (and hopefully the player has come to identify the haven as "home"), your camp falls under attack by the agents who caused the catastrophe. Your team of survivors must safely escort the woman to nearby caves and hold off the attack. Part III ends with the childbirth and a cinematic montage showing the woman's recover and the party's escape.

Part IV: By now you know where to go to deal with the agents, rally all the surviving humans and all around save the day. You choose which of your allies to bring on the last mission and which to leave behind with the baby. (Again, the mother should have some necessary skill that makes her important to the mission. Staying home with the kid might make good mother-child-bonding sense but I think it's a pretty lame game if the protagonist spends the climax sitting at home changing diapers).

Ending probably depends on choices you've made along the way.

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Sterling
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
To be honest, I think it's an interesting concept, and would be considerably more interesting if you kept any supernatural elements of out it. I don't think a viable threat to a child or an increasingly feeble protagonist are necessarily verboten, either. But the rest of the game would need to be very solid.

I agree: not verboten, but quite against convention. Most games from some of the earliest video game designs get harder as the game goes on, but the protaganist either gets stronger as he/she/it faces the challenges or at least the player becomes more adept in recognizing what will work and their character's abilities remain more or less constant (while the enemies may still become smarter/faster/stronger/harder to predict.)

It's the sort of thing that seems fated to make a game either a sleeper (Innovative! Compelling! Original! Revolutionary!) or an abject failure (What were they thinking?! By the time her water broke, I was ready to waddle the heroine off a cliff...)

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Raymond Arnold
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My hope is that, because you'll have access to more characters by the time you're in the late stages, the severe debilitation of the main character won't be all that annoying
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